Image Copyright 2011 DC Comics

Editor's Note: Jon Bogdanove is a talented artist who has spent a good deal of his career creating the image of Superman in the comics. 

Like most people I've written about, his journey is interesting, unique, and inspiring.  In the interest of full disclosure, Jon and I are cousins by marriage.

OCS: Jon, you have spent many years as an artist and sometimes writer of Superman, for DC comics.  Tell us more about that.
Jon: I was the principal penciler on a long-running comic book series called Superman: The Man of Steel, among other things.  Once upon a time, I was part of a small team of artists and writers that made news creating The Death of Superman. After he recovered, we were also the team that was responsible for Clark and Lois finally getting married. I also co-created and designed the character STEEL, for which I wrote a number of stories.

OCS: You continue to do work with the Superman character.  What is that all about?
Jon: This summer, DC Comics asked the extraordinary writer, Louise Simonson, and me to reprise our Superman collaboration as part of their DC RetroActive event. Superman: RetroActive 1990s hits the stands August 24th. It is the first new Superman work Louise and I have done together this century– but it's also perhaps the final, very last chance for fans to enjoy classic Superman, before DC Comics re-designs and re-launches the character in September.

OCS: Where were you born?  Where did you grow up?
Jon: I was born in Albany, NY, and grew up in Indiana and Virginia.

OCS: Did you ever study to become anything other than a comic book professional?  Who inspired you to draw? Was there an aha! moment when you knew that drawing comics was what you wanted to do for a living?
Jon: I think it was just always assumed that I would do something art-related.  I had a passion for drawing story continuity of one sort or another, since before I even knew what comics were.  Like a lot of kids my age, I ran home from kindergarten every day to watch Superman re-runs on T.V. I was aware of comic books, but the Superman stuff in comics in those days seemed goofy and weird to my 5-year-old brain.  I much preferred George Reeves's characterization. I wore red underwear on the outside of some random pajamas, tied a towel around my neck, crayoned a big "S" on my chest and flew around my neighborhood, looking for kids to help.    Then, when I was 13, I discovered the comic books of seminal genius, Jack Kirby, and I think my fate was sealed.

OCS: What was your early career like?  Who did you work for ?
Jon: I started at Marvel, drawing an issue of Alpha Flight, but immediately got an assignment to take over as penciler of one of my two favorite Marvel books at that time. Power Pack (also created and written by Louise Simonson) was a labor of love for about six years. Power Pack was the story of Marvel’s youngest team of superheroes, but it gave me the opportunity to have our super-powered siblings interact with many of Marvel’s top characters, including Spiderman, The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and The Avengers. We got to be part of some significant Marvel history.  I drew the first confrontation between Wolverine and Sabertooth, for example. Somewhere in that time, I also penciled Fantastic Four v. The X-Men, which is a classic mini-series written by Chris Claremont. In one edition or another, it has been continuously in print since we finished it.

OCS: For many years you lived in Maine, summering on an island off the coast, sending in your work periodically by Fed Ex.  How did all that come about?
Jon: My grandfather was the American Impressionist painter and muralist A. J. Bogdanove, who was renowned for his paintings of the Maine coast and Monhegan Island in particular.  I lived on the island as a young man, lobstering as a stern man and doing carpentry.  I met my wife there.

OCS: A few years ago you moved to L.A.  What brought you here?
Jon: Judy and I are technically still bi-coastal, as our property is all in Maine.  But the pull of California Awesomeness is irresistible. We started spending significant time out here, because our son is a writer and director in Hollywood. My wife's family is here as well.  We’re looking forward to settling here permanently.

OCS: How did you get to work with perhaps the most prestigious action hero of all time?
Jon: Mike Carlin had been editor of The Fantastic Four at Marvel, and knew how strongly I feel about Superman.  When he took over editing the Superman line at DC, he invited Louise Simonson and me to start a whole new Superman title, Superman: The Man of Steel. All kinds of Superman toys and licensed merchandise began to appear at our house, addressed to our son, Kal-El, who was around 6 years old then.  Kal-El would, in turn, come into the studio and counsel me to go work for Mike Carlin on Superman.  Kal-El's career advice has never been wrong.

OCS: For those of us who are not familiar with the process, please describe the primary players in producing a comic book.
Jon: We all worked "Marvel Method" on those books.  The storylines were integrated through all the Superman titles, so basic plots and ideas were brainstormed and workshopped en masse by all the creative participants.  DC would fly in the writer, penciler, inker, letterer and the colorist of each of the four monthly Superman titles, for an intensive 3-5 day conference with the editor. It was similar to the writers’ room on a television series.

Together we would all hash out the broad strokes of Superman's adventures for the year ahead.  It was a great way to foster passion and hard work, because everyone got a voice.  These meetings would yield a complex outline of interwoven story arcs, divvied up among four monthly titles.Every month, Louise and I would refer to the outline, to see what beats we were responsible for handling, and where things had to be left for the next team.

Within that framework, there was often room to do a lot more, and Louise always did an amazing job making each of our installments stand alone as a story by itself.  She also very kindly included me in the creative process, talking most stories through with me, before and during her writing. Louise would produce a synopsis/outline of the story to guide my drawing. I would then tell the story in pictures as best I could, drawing every detail in pencil. If a comic book writer is equivalent to a screenwriter, a comic book penciler is like the director, DP, and actors.  Different artists draw at different speeds, but generally, a page of penciled art takes me between 12 and 48 hours of actual work.

As I finished pages of art, I would send the originals to DC, who would send copies to Louise.  Louise would then imagine the specifics of what the characters were saying, and write a script with all the dialogue and sound effects.  Once everything was approved by our editor, Louise's script would be sent to the letterer, who would carefully letter all the dialogue and sound effects onto my artwork, by hand.  Most lettering is done on computer these days.  Few lettering artists remain who can do the exacting work by hand.  It's a lost art.

Once the penciled pages were neatly lettered, they were sent to an inker, who rendered all the penciled work in ink.   People tease inkers sometimes by calling them tracers, but inkers can make or break a comic.  A good inker can make a lousy penciler look good.  Likewise, a bad inker can ruin all a great penciler's careful, hard work.  What gets printed in the comic is the inked line. These days I ink most of my own work, to avoid the uncertainty that can accompany inking, but in the days of Man of Steel, our schedule prohibited that.

Like lettering, the coloring in comics is now all done on computer.  Back in the day, it was done on photocopies, by hand, in vivid colored ink.  These were then photographed and separated into four printing plates, including black (the line art), cyan (blue), magenta (red), and yellow.  All colors in a comic were made by an optical blending of these simple hues.

Making comics has changed a lot since then.  Like everyone else, a lot of what I do today is on the computer, too.  Collectors of original comic book art are frustrated, because so much is digital now.  But that's not the case with Superman: RetroActive 1990s.I penciled and inked all the pages and cover for Superman: RetroActive 1990s old school.   It was fun to revive the old ways once again, for this last project.  It's also nice that the final appearance of our classic, familiar version of Superman will be commemorated by being drawn properly on paper.  It's possible that these pages will be the last ever original Superman art. 

Images copyright 2011 DC Comics

Monday, April 22, 2024